[This post submitted to Living Montessori Now's Montessori Monday (9/10/12).]
I posted some of my initial thoughts about Waldorf, Montessori, and the general issue of private schooling for children here. Since then, I've delved into a self-education program about the differences and similarities between the two methods/philosophies, and I think it all boils down to one word: freedom. As a pastor, a Christian, and an American, this jives with what I like to view as the essential theme of my life. Freedom from persecution. Freedom to pursue an abundant life. Freedom as the ultimate gift given to me without cost. Freedom from fear and anxiety.
And for Rudolph Steiner and Maria Montessori, the freedom of the child (who then becomes a free-minded adult, contributing free thoughts to society) was the end goal of education.
The ways they get there, though, are like divergent paths leading through a dark woods and arriving at the same waterfall. Steiner thought that the child needed to be protected. The world of fantasy should be preserved as long as possible (age seven is kind of a magical transition from play to academic learning). Children are free through play, and their minds are allowed to grow in whichever direction they seem inclined.
Montessori, on the other hand, thought that the freedom of the child would be achieved through independence. Reality was very important. Children needed to shed the world of fantasy and become engaged in the world of work. Their work would make them feel valuable and authentic.
I've toured the Montessori school nearest my home that accepts infants beginning at five months. It was bright, spacious, very new, and full of clean lines. The children were working independently but also interacting with grace and courtesy. In the infant room, the babies were friendly and each one was left to his own schedule. State regulation does not permit floorbeds, but they had open cribs with mirrors inside to encourage movement. The school gave me a feeling of peace and industry. It also gave me the feeling of a bleeding wallet - the infant room costs $1095 per month! Ouch. Guess it will remain a fantasy for the time being.
The baby and I have also been doing an eight-week Sweet Peas Garden course at the local Waldorf school. It has been lovely. You can't compare to spending a good amount of time in an environment to see what impression it leaves on you. Ms. Monica, the teacher who leads our time together, is so thoughtful and open. She has given us many articles to read on the nature of Waldorf schooling and also about some of the contrasts between Montessori and Waldorf. Some of these articles are more or less subjective, so I always read with a grain of salt (and the understanding that every child is so very different). I'll post a link to an article I thought was very helpful below. We gather together, make a simple craft while the children and babies play, share stories and songs, discuss our readings for the week, and share a wholesome cake, apples and tea before going home. The environment is fully of softly filtered light (the use of colored silks is important to shield sense impressions), organic and natural shapes, and toys that are nondescript and can be used for many styles of playing.
The thing that both of these enviroments had in common was that everything was accessible to the child. Nothing was off-limits. These rooms were designed so that you don't really have to tell a child "No! Don't touch!" Conflicts can be resolved easily because there are multiple areas for children to play, and different iterations of toys so fighting over an activity is minimized.
The Waldorf school is also expensive, although they offer tuition assistance and a sliding payment scale (which the Montessori school does not). You can't really compare the two, however, since the Montessori facility included year-round, full-day childcare. The Waldorf school was a school - September through May, and accepting children for the "Kindergarten" at about three years.
All in all, both schools made me salivate at the possibilities for growth and development they presented. Both left a bad taste in my mouth with the high cost and lack of diversity across the socioeconomic spectrum. I suppose these are the challenges we face in educating our children.
A helpful link:
In this article, Dee Joy Coulter reviews the intrinsic relatedness between Montessori and Waldorf, and how she sees them balance each other.